Big Ten discusses moving up official visits

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHICAGO -- Like many parents of college-bound high school students, Illinois head coach Ron Zook made the college tour with his daughters in June of their junior year.

He wonders why football prospects can't do the same.

Zook and several of his Big Ten colleagues are discussing whether football recruits should be allowed to take official visits during June or even May of their junior years. Recruits currently cannot make official visits until after the first day of classes during their senior year.

"What's happening is these kids are making a lot of unofficial visits, which they're having to pay for," Zook said Wednesday. "Some of them quite frankly can't afford it. So you're helping that way as well."

With so many recruits making verbal commitments as juniors -- Michigan already has 10 commits for 2010, while Ohio State and Penn State have five -- their official visits become more of a formality. Many players also make impromptu unofficial visits throughout the summer, which place an added burden on football coaches and their staffs.

The Big Ten debated a proposal at last year's meetings that would have added a two-week dead period to the summer recruiting calendar to give the coaches more time off.

"I'm concerned for the work-life balance of our coaches," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "Student-athletes are now touring in the summertime. For us, they go to Michigan, they go to Michigan State, they come to our place, they go to Notre Dame, or reverse. So our coaches have to be there.

"Normally [coaches] do their summer camps in June or some in July and then they disappear. That's gone now."

Smith favors an early signing date for football, a topic discussed at the Big Ten meetings and around the country. He also thinks the NCAA should reduce the number of allotted official visits from five to three, which would save athletic departments some money in rough economic times. Smith noted that most prospects don't need all five official visits to make their selection.

Several Big Ten coaches favor moving up the start of official visits, but it's far from a consensus nationally. Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said some coaches from other leagues want to push back official visits until December of a prospect's senior year.

Basketball prospects used to be allowed to take official visits during their junior years, but the policy was rescinded.

Zook opposes the early signing date but sees value in having prospects take official visits earlier, as money will be saved and coaches won't have to always balance their in-season responsibilities with entertaining recruits.

"It's what normal people do," he said. "I'm definitely in favor of June visits."